10 Medical Terms Every Aspiring Sterile Processing Tech Should Know

So, you have decided that pursuing a sterile processing career is the best path for you. After all, it offers an above average wage, and its job description is straightforward and specific – ensure that all equipment and instruments are safe to use during surgical procedures.

As you play this important role in maintaining the supply chain of medical equipment and eliminating infection in hospitals, clinics, or surgery centers, there are some medical terms you must learn before taking the best online sterile processing course:

  1. Autoclave

-A sterilizer that uses steam to perform its microbicidal function.

  1. Bioburden

-This is the number of viable microorganisms that have contaminated an item. It is also known as bio load or microbial loads. Bioburden refers to microorganisms found on products, instruments, devices, and/or packages.

Thorough cleaning and rinsing are the most important steps in decontaminating all reusable medical equipment. This does not kill microorganisms but cleans away bioburden, which is followed by disinfection or sterilization. Before cleaning instruments, soak them in an enzymatic solution for at least 30 minutes. Rinse well. This helps to remove bioburden and allows for thorough cleaning.

  1. Chemical Indicator

-One of the most important devices to monitor sterilization is chemical indicators. They can react to a specific chemical or physical change in one or more physical conditions in the sterilizing chamber. Chemical indicators can detect potential sterilization problems immediately. These could be caused by incorrect packaging, improper loading, or malfunctions in the sterilizer.

One study found that chemical indicators were more likely to incorrectly indicate sterilization at marginal sterilization time (e.g. 2 minutes) than biological indicators. Although chemical indicators can be used alongside biological indicators, they should not be replaced based on existing studies. They indicate sterilization at marginal sterilization times and only a biological indicator that is resistant to spores can determine the microbicidal killing potential of the sterilization process.

  1. Decontamination

-A process or treatment to make a medical device or instrument safe to use or handle is called decontamination. OSHA defines decontamination as "the use or combination of chemical or physical means to remove, activate, or destroy bloodborne pathogens from a surface or object to the point that they are no longer capable transmitting infectious particles."

  1. Ethylene Oxide Sterilization

-Ethylene Oxide sterilization can be used to sterilize instruments and devices that are sensitive to heat and/or humidity. ETO is a colorless, flammable, and explosive gas. These four parameters are called the operational ranges. They include gas concentration (450-1200 mg/l), temperature (37-63degC), relative humidity (40-80%) and exposure time (from 1 to 6 hours). These factors influence the efficacy of ETO sterilization. A decrease in the gas concentration or temperature can reduce the time required to sterilize.

  1. Flash Sterilization

Flash sterilization is a procedure that allows the use of sterilized patient care items immediately after a surgical procedure.

Flash sterilization should be performed in accordance with the following guidelines:

  1. Before sterilizing the item, clean it thoroughly.

  2. Avoid exogenous contamination of the item on the way from the sterilizer to the patient.

  3. Monitor sterilizer function using chemical, biological, and mechanical monitors.

  1. Geobacillus Stearothermophilus Spores

Only biological indicators can monitor the sterilization process's lethality. The sterilization agent has been shown to be resistant to spores, which are more resistant than bioburden on medical devices. Geobacillus and Bacillus Atrophaeus are used for monitoring ETO and dry heat sterilizers. Geobacillus and Geobacillus Stearothermophilus are used to monitor steam sterilization and hydrogen peroxide gas plasma sterilizers. Geobacillus Stearothermophilus and Bacillus Atrophaeus spores can be incubated at 55-60degC, while Bacillus Aerophagus spores can be incubated between 35-37degC.

  1. Huck Towel

The Huck towel is an all-cotton surgical towel made with a honeycomb weave. Both warp and fill yarns of the towel are tightly twisted. Huck towels are used to make biological indicator challenge packs.

  1. Implantable Device

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that "devices placed in a surgically formed cavity of the human body for 30 days or more are considered to be permanent if they are intended to stay there."

  1. Microorganism Sterilization and Disinfection

Before disinfection or sterilization, thorough cleaning is required.

The other conditions remain constant. A germicide must be used to kill all microbes. Spaulding demonstrated this relationship when he used identical test conditions and found that it took 30 minutes for 10 Bacillus Atrophaeus (formerly Bacillus subtilis), spores to be killed, but three hours to kill 100,000 Bacillus Atrophaeus spores. This highlights the importance of sterilization and disinfection performed with care on medical instruments. It is possible to reduce the number of microorganisms to be activated by meticulous cleaning.

When assessing the effectiveness of germicides, it is important to consider the location of microorganisms. Multiple pieces of medical instruments must be disassembled. Equipment such as endoscopes with crevices, joints and channels is more difficult to disinfect than equipment with flat surfaces. This is because the disinfectant penetrates more parts of the equipment. Only surfaces that are directly exposed to the germicide will be disinfected.


These are only the basic medical terms. The depth of their use in your everyday work as a sterile processing technician goes beyond these simple definitions. As you journey further into your education towards this career, you will encounter more medical terminologies that will help you navigate your role as a sterile processing technician.

If you want to educate yourself further in the importance of proper sterilization, decontamination and reprocessing of reusable medical devices, enroll in a sterile processing technician program that will enable you to successfully meet and pass international certification standards.

Start your sterile processing technician career today with Martinson College, to maximize your full potential in providing quality patient care and a much higher level of protection from infection for everyone.

Read More: Ways to Become a Certified Sterile Processing Technician